The Great Escape

It is almost 10 years since I managed to break away from a relationship that ate away at my soul.

I met a good looking biker at an AA meeting and eventually we started seeing each other. After about two months he broke up with me because he didn’t know if he was ready for a long term relationship or not.

He’d talked it over wiith his sister before he broke the news to me as he’d mistaken my enthusiasm in bed as undying love. As if.

A couple of months later he decided he was ready to enter into what may become a serious relationship but he asked me to call him on particular nights to say hello. I didn’t have a phone at the time so I had to go to the phone box in a not particularly safe place to ring him. Sometimes I could hear him in the background telling which ever parent had answered the phone that he didn’t want to speak to me.

At this point alarm bells should have been ringing so damned loudly that they blocked out all other sound.

Then he decided he needed a break again. I gave him the time and space he needed and when he decided we were on again I was really quite happy even though I shouldn’t have been.

He came over once a week from work to spend the night and eat with me. Most times he’d complement me on my cooking but there were times when he’d tell me he’d come to expect better from me. I just used to tell him to cook himself if I was that bad and he’d pull his pet lip, put the puppy dog eyes on and I’d shut up.

He was bizarre in bed. I don’t mean that he wanted me to swing from the lights screaming “whip me until bleed” bizarre but he was incapable of doing anything else but the missionary position and everything was at his speed. I can see now that his selfishness was in every part of our relationship but not then.

We were in our mid 30s and he told me he’d always lived at home, he’d never cooked a meal from start to finish, he didn’t know how to use an iron and paid no contribution to his family for expenses etc. He was basically a baby.

Talking of which, I don’t know how he did, it but he made me a baby too. When we split up there was no fewer and a dozen teddy bears in my bedroom that he’d bought me on different occasions. It was almost as if I was a child he had sex with.

After two years his parents told me he had to stop having sex with me so he did and two years later we had an almighty row which ended in him throwing a flat leather shoe at me so that it hit me in the stomach and I was left with a huge bruise. I accepted that it was my fault.

I told him I wanted to be just friends and that meant no kissing or holding hands but he ignored me and I let him do it.

He gave up work after I became ill and there were demands on my time that were pathetic. He’d ring and tell me there was an injured animal (usually a fox or a bird) in their garden and ask me to go and free it. There was never anything there when I arrived.

He had a lot of fun controlling me.

The worst was that when I met him I was a dress size 14. I had the figure I wanted and really nice working clothes. In episodes of mania I ate sugary food and he’d bring me chocolate and, of course, I ate it. He was a feeder. A photo taken in 2007 horrified me. It’s one thing seeing the clothes labels marked with the size 22 labels but quite another to see the photos of what you actually look like.

There was no celebrations of my birthday unless you count a pack of fries and a diet coke at McDonalds. At Christmas I got the kind of gifts that he would like not what I’d like and I thought I deserved that behaviour.

New Years Even 2007. He rang me to say he was taking me out for a meal and that he’d pick me up so I could say hello to his mum. I didn’t want to say hello to his mum but I had to or else there’d be accusations of not caring so off we went.

I thought we were going for an evening meal but at 4.30 pm (yes, you read that right) we were sat in a Beefeater ordering burgers. When they arrived he shovelled his down so fast I thought he was going to choke and I had to leave what was left of mine on the plate. Of course I got a lecture about wasting his money!

So that was it. I got home and I realised that if I didn’t get out of that relationship then I’d be stuck with it for the rest of my life. I’d spent 13 years in a relationship that should have been over in two at the most and would have been better if it had never started in the first place.

I was lucky because we didn’t live together so it was much easier for me to break things up than it is for some people. I rang him to tell him that I needed some time out and he went along with it but told me not to get involved with other men.

I won’t say I walked away and I never looked back because I have. In the early days it’s easy to think that things weren’t that bad, the pull is still there and it tested me to my limits.

The one thing that saved me from going back was the one thing he said I could never do. I’d always dreamed of taking photos and he constantly told me that I’d be dreadful at it. In January 2008 I bought a camera and in February 2008 I sold my first photo. There have been many since then but that was the “fuck you” photo.

It was hard, nearly as hard as giving up drinking or smoking, but I did it. This is my story of my wasted time but I don’t regret what I didn’t do. Everything we do, every step we take, even if it is in the wrong direction, moulds us into the person that we are. I take great pleasure in being the person that he’d hate me to be.

Inequality and a cold reception

I was thinking this morning about mental health and, for a change it wasn’t me specific because I was talking myself into going to a forum.

As I was getting ready to go I thought it was a local Labour Party meeting that had changed venue and time. It would have been my first time there and I don’t admit that I was terror stricken.

I missed a bus and waited forever in the cold as I fought the urge to cross back over the road and run up the street to the safety of home. If I didn’t go then I wouldn’t have to face people but then I wouldn’t get the opportunity to change things in a positive manner. The latter won out.

When I got there I started said hello to someone who dashed off without replying. I sat down at a table and people started to sit down at the seats around me. I felt like the person who nobody on the bus would sit beside

I felt isolated in a place where I shouldn’t have felt isolated and it scared me.

Somebody passed around the Agenda of the meeting and that’s when I realised that it wasn’t a Party meeting but a group that seemed to be rather insular and didn’t like newcomers.

By this point I felt that the terror I had felt earlier in the day was justified and I wiped away a couple of tears. I felt that in a room with a group Equality in its title I was not their equal and I was not being treated as an equal.

As I looked around I could see that everyone else in the room had a visible illness. Forty five minutes in the meeting had not started and nobody had came up to me to say hello. I was asked to sign in and I told the woman I had no idea of what was going on but she was off to the next person before I’d finished the sentence.

It was a cold reception and, in a room of people who understood how it felt to be in a marginalised minority, I was not only a person with an invisible illness I was also invisible to these people.

I felt as thought that they had decided that I didn’t belong there. I got up and left; nobody noticed.

I went down to the floor one down from where the meeting was being held as I knew the building well and sat at a table and began to write the notes for this piece. A woman came up to me and demanded that I tell her where the meeting was being held – no please, no thank you, no politeness.

I won’t go back  there again. Equality means different things to different people and for me it means that together we find a way for us all to do the things we need to and help one another on the way and by that I mean in society as a whole.

There should be no competition of pain, no discrimination within or without disability equality forums. If I had not felt marginalised before this morning then I would certainly feel that now.

Fuck them.

Obsession and the lack of writing

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is part and parcel of having a major mental health problem. It’s never just one thing, there’s always add ons.

I am primarily an Obsessor with a chunk of compulsion thrown in and I am very disordered.

I haven’t written for nearly two months. This isn’t because I don’t have things to say it’s because the Obsessor in me is obsessing about something else. Currently it’s my family tree but that will change back to writing again or taking photos; it’s a bit like playing a lucky dip, you don’t know what you’re going to get or even if you want it.

I’m thankful for the fact that I can spend huge amounts of time alone which can be difficult given that I live in an extremely friendly part of my city and it’s bad enough trying to avoid people you know without other people wanting to chat. I always do chat back though just in case they’re lonely and I can be a break in that or maybe they think I’m lonely and who am I to deprive someone of doing a good deed.

I’m happy to have a dog that isn’t too keen on people or other dogs so we get to walk without feeling obliged to talk to people and can vary our route as we choose.

I don’t have a particularly good life but I do have a particulary good life also. I suffer but I can suffer (and therefore recover) at my own speed and rate.

So maybe the writing will start again tomorrow or maybe not but if it does it will become another facet of the O in Obsessive for as long as it takes even if it does have me tearing my hair out, quite literally, by the roots.

Mental Health in the Work Place

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day (check out #WorldMentalHealthDay on Twitter if you’re on there) is Mental Health in the Work Place and I’d like to tell you about my positive experiences but I haven’t had any.

After my marriage broke up I had a huge breakdown and it took me over a year to get into a frame of mind that meant I could start thinking about going back to work.

I did a course in using Information Technology (IT) which took 16 weeks. I think this was mainly because that’s how long it took to boot up the computers and the most exciting thing that ever happened was the release of Windows 95.

After I left I decided to do some temping to gain experience and enrolled with every agency I could and got work most weeks.

Sometime during that period I heard Spike Milligan being interviewed by Anthony Clare and decided to read Spike’s autobiography. Reading about his manic depression made me realise that that’s what was wrong with me and, after a trip to a psychiatrist via my GP, the diagnosis was confirmed.

I got medicated up and kept on working but the work began drying up and before long I was only getting work from one agency. I became friends with the manager and we lunched together often. I confided in her about having manic depression aka biploar disorder and I never heard from her again and I never got work through that agency ever again.

I applied for a permanent job in one of the top four accountant companies via an agency and got the job. They laid down some rules on their side – I’d only have to work my fair share of overtime, if managers disagreed with the importance of my workload and which of theirs should come first then they’d sort it out and that there was an open door policy re support when work got too much.

It was bullshit of course. I worked all the overtime – x lived too far away, y had a child, z’s husband wouldn’t let her do it so I got lumbered with it. Working a 60 hour week wasn’t unusual. There were the times when I had to drop everything and go to another office in another city and work there for a few days. Of course there was training courses that were mandatory and they were always in Reading. I have grown to hate Reading.

After 10 months the pressure really got to me. Each time I tried to take time off I was told I was needed then in the next breath, literally the next breath, I would be told I was accumulating holiday time and I needed to use it up.

I was working on energy I didn’t have, I was unhappy, I hated the job, I despised the people I worked with and I did everything I could to get the sack and they wouldn’t do it. Bad as I was at my job and becoming worse, having me there cocking things up was easier than advertising for a new slave.

It was a sexist environment and the partner in charge of the section I worked for was racist which really tested my temper. I often wish I’d stood up to him on that subject but I was too worn down and too tired to do anything other than breathe.

My mental health was suffering and I pleaded with my line manager for help. He told me to take a holiday but refused to let me have time off. My work deteriorated, my temper got shorter and shorter and my behaviour became erratic.

I  finally confided in one of the guys that I worked closely with that I had a mental health problem and that the stress of the job was making things worse and that I needed someone on my side to speak up for me. I explained about manic depression/bipolar disorder and he said he’d have a word with the section partner.

A few days later I was told to gather my things together and leave because I no longer fitted the profile of the company. They didn’t openly discriminate on the grounds of my mental health problem but it was just too much of a coincidence.

I never worked again. The whole experience broke me into tiny pieces and what had been a mind that was relatively stable has become a mind that is fragile and teeters on the edge of instabiity every minute of every day.

I celebrate those of you with positive work experiences and I’m thoroughly glad for you. Unless those of us with negative experiences speak up nobody will ever get a positive experience.

I had no real idea of who I was when I last worked and had no sense of my value but I got involved in some community work at a senior management level for a while and realised that I was more than okay and that the flashy top accountant company was full of people thinking that being employed by such a company gave them a sense of self esteem or turbo charged their arrogance.

I have a limited life these days but I good one. I can no longer do any voluntary work but I’ve changed things in my community. I have people who come up to me in the street a decade after my last voluntary work and thank me for the good I’ve done. I am respected and valued and they all know about my mental helath problem.

So what’s the point of this?

Don’t let any of your colleagues make you feel bad because they haven’t the capacity to understand that just because you have issues with mental health you don’t have a decent life. Let them see how wonderful you are – you are amazing, truly.

Don’t live despite your mental health problems or despite negativity at work, live to spite them.

Go sober? Go educate yourself.

I think that by now everybody with a television has seen the Go Sober advert by McMillan.

It starts jauntily by saying that man has been drinking since the dawn of time and since the day after he’s been having hangovers. It then goes on to try and persuade people to stop drinking for a whole month and fill the time with something else. Watch it now.

When I first saw it I thought I was in a televised meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and that I was listening to the story of that one person who can’t believe that they have a problem. It was painful to watch.

It’s an advert that appears to be aimed at people with an alcohol problem yet it is aimed at the whole population.

The idea behind Go Sober is that you stop drinking and somehow raise money for McMillan. You can do it in teams and get on a leaderboard on the website that’s dedicated to Go Sober and you can even aim for a place as the top fundraiser.

All well and good you may think but, there is always a but.

McMillan are a charity that provides care and support for people with cancer. They do a fantastic job and need funding as Government funding is in an ever increasing downward spiral.

However, over drinking can cause or enhance the chance of having SEVEN different types of cancer. If you are a regular drinker (and Go Sober presumes you are) then you are risk from or have an enhanced risk from

  • breast cancer
  • laryngeal (voice box) cancer
  • liver cancer
  • mouth cancer
  • oesophagel (food pipe) cancer
  • pharyngeal (upper throat) cancer
  • bowel cancer

That is, not to put to fine a point on it, a shit load of cancer.

To put it simply, McMillan want you to raise money for the care you may have to have when/if you succumb to cancer that was caused by your alcohol consumption

“Thinking of taking on Go Sober? Wondering if you’ve got the willpower to see it through? For so many Brits, the prospect of a dry thirty-one day stretch can seem as gruelling as any marathon. Psychologist Sarah Gibson shares a few tips to help you rise to the challenge.”

The above paragraph from the Go Sober website is very telling as is the fact that I could only find a single sentence about getting help if you find out you need it because your drinking is so out of control but the only sign post is to your doctor. Many people with an alcohol problem will only talk to their doctor as a last resort.

I’m sure that McMillan will get a ton of money to go towards their valuable work but hey, do a little bit at least towards alcohol awareness and where to get help. I don’t think that there’s many alcoholics that are sober today because of a fundraising campaign for a cancer charity.

Details of how to contact Alcoholics Anonymous are here.